Oil City Council Addresses Water Bill Proposal/Acquired Properties at Meeting

| August 11, 2017


OIL CITY, Pa. (EYT) – The Oil City Council continued to address a pair of recent hot-button topics at their bi-weekly meeting Thursday.

See related story: Oil City Parking Authority Says All is Well in Parking in the City

Those topics included the recent property acquisitions by the city through the Venango County Land Bank and the proposed Landlord/Tenant Water, Sewage and Garbage Billing.

CITY COULD SEE UPTICK SIX TO SEVEN PERCENT UPTICK IN COLLECTIONS OF WATER BILLS

Oil City Manager Mark Schroyer believes the city, which is currently losing an estimated $1.4 millions per year in delinquent water bills, would see an immediate uptick of six to seven percent in collections if it goes ahead with the proposal to bill the landlords as opposed to the tenants like is currently being done.

Schroyer also noted that after studying the delinquencies on a yearly basis as opposed to a month-by-month basis, which was a request from a landlord at a meeting on the subject two weeks ago, that the delinquency rate is the same.

“Whether we look at it month-by-month or yearly it’s about 17 percent,” Schroyer said.

Schroyer and Councilman Ron Gustafson both noted that the concern of some landlords that a “vengeful” tenant would just let the water run sticking the landlord with a large bill was a valid one. But Gustafson, a landlord himself, also believes that the landlord as to take some responsibility.

“Landlords are going to have to take a more professional stance,” Gustafson said. “They are going to have to do some legwork to change their leases to include the amount of water usage that a tenant can have.”

Gustafson suggested that it be on the landlord to be able to prove that the tenant had purposefully gone over its water usage after said usage was in writing before the city would consider some sort of reprieve.

That brought a response from Police Chief Robert Werner, whose department deals with a lot of landlord/tenant issues.

“Why are we being responsible for someone making a bad choice,” Werner asked the council. “They (the landlord) don’t want it (the billing) because they don’t get money for it from HUD and other sources.”

Werner noted there are some good landlords in the city as well, and he thinks if the proposal passes it will actually increase the quality of housing in the city.

“I think there will be fewer renters who are just in it for a quick dollar,” Werner said.

Gustafson agreed.

“I think this process will elevate the quality of housing in the city,” Gustafson said.

Councilman Michael Poff said he believes some landlords get into the rental business because it is easy money with Schroyer concurring.

“They pick houses up for less than a $1,000 and get $500 to $600 per month,” Schroyer said.

No decisions were made on what to do about the billing, and Schroyer said another public meeting will be held before the council makes any decisions. It was suggested that if possible the next public meeting be in two weeks.

Schroyer also said he took umbrage to a recent letter-to-the editor that said he has fabricated this issue.

“I don’t fabricate problems,” Schroyer said.

DISCUSSION HAD ON WHAT TO DO ABOUT PROPERTIES OIL CITY ACQUIRED

After a request came into the city to buy a property the city had acquired through the Land Bank, Schroyer said he believed the council needed to take a look at how it was treating the properties.

“I feel like we are getting a little far afield,” Schroyer said. “Originally, we bought these properties to tear them down. Will we stick with our plan?”

Councilman Dale Massie said he was worried about the city getting way off the path of the original intent of the purchases which were to stop the cycle of the properties becoming delinquent.

When it was mentioned that whoever bought the property be given a timeframe to improve it, Massie said his experience on the Redevelopment Authority tells him that won’t work.

“We would set deadlines and they would go over and there wasn’t much we could do about it,” Massie said. “I think we have laid out a good plan and should stick with it.”

Mayor William Moon agreed.

“I don’t think we should deviate from it.”

Gustafson, a contractor, said he would like to see the house in question.

“I need a little more time to evaluate it,” Gustafson said.

The matter was tabled until Gustafson could see the house and Moon and Gustafson could meet with the potential buyer.”

CITY PLANS TO GET OUT OF THE RENTAL BUSINESS

The council authorized Schroyer to draft a letter to the Arts Council stating that as of Jan. 1, 2018, the city would no longer be the go-between to rent space to local artists.

“We want to get out of the rental business,” Schroyer said. “It will be up to them (Arts Council) to rent to the artists.”

Gustafson said he has always been puzzled as to why the city does so many small transactions like the rental.

“Our people have enough work to do,” Gustafson said.

 

In other business the council:

  • Approved closing East Third Street between Church Street and Pine Street as well as Walnut Street between East Third Street and East Third Alley from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 22 for the Southside Neighborhood Association annual Ice Cream Social and the Laugh and Play playground. The event will be from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and is open to all in the neighborhood and surrounding area.
  • Gave approval for the Oil City High School annual Homecoming Parade, pep-rally and bonfire to be held Thursday, Sept. 14. The parade will start at 6 p.m. at 1801 West First Street and finish at the Central Avenue Plaza. The school district requested the Oil City Police Department take care of the escorts and security for the event, for the Oil City Fire Department to extinguish the bonfire at the conclusion of the event and for the City Works Department to provide the portable stage, arrange for the bonfire and place addition garbage cans at the Plaza. The council agreed to all of these requests.
  • Heard from City Finance Officer Michelle Hoovler on the current state of the budget. Hoovler told the council that as of the end of June revenues were as expected and spending was below 50 percent.
  • Ratified a lease agreement with J. Stack & Company for use of space in the City building. J. Stack & Company already had space in the building but needed additional space, which was given in offices located off the council chambers. The lease is through the end of 2018.
  • Was informed by Schroyer that Cranberry Township had started buying water from the city because of an issue with one of the township’s well fields located on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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